Sometimes I discuss current events with my friends. One such event, the re-election of Xi Jinping in China, had got me thinking about what that sort of reporting and information really means. According to the BBC video I just linked, the new Chinese president is maneuvering to stay in power for a long time. Despite potential crises (the video mentioned economic woes and disastrous COVID policies), President Xi appears to be weathering the storm of bad things happening.
Now, there is still a part of me that hopes rational actors exist at high levels of power. Even if the leader is garbage, one would hope there is a working mind that can weigh options logically and avoid disastrous outcomes. This doesn’t just apply to regimes like China’s. Google “President Biden’s Fitness for Office,” and there’s no shortage of people wondering if the U.S. president is mentally capable to execute the duties of state. Right now, from the U.K. to New Zealand, every leader at least has a few people who think that leader is mentally able to be a leader.
Except, recent world events this year fly in the face of that assumption. Liz Truss was ousted from U.K. leadership after 45 days. President Putin appears to be attacking civilian targets in his war against Ukraine. Were these people making honest mistakes of rational thought, or were they walking morons that never should have been in office to begin with?
The answer to that question requires ordinary people – like the person writing this or the people reading this – to actually know what’s going on. People in the U.K. had to cast votes knowing Truss would become Prime Minister. She gave interviews broadcasting her intent to do what she did. And what she did wrecked a major economy. Likewise, Putin was warned Ukraine would get foreign aid and support if he went to war. That aid and support have proven critical in stopping the Russian army (and potentially driving it out of Ukraine altogether).
I’ve known people who have speculated what must be going on in Putin’s mind, or Truss’s mind, or Xi’s mind, or anyone else’s mind for that matter. But really, can anyone know any of that? One would think advisors to leaders would advise, but without being in the room, they could be talking about their favorite Pokemon.
All of this becomes important when ordinary people try to figure out whether someone is stupid, intelligent, or forgivably mistaken. And yeah, I understand that thinking about this can sound an awful lot like a conspiracy theorist’s manifesto. People tend to support things they feel is right, and devalue things they feel isn’t right. Without any way of reaching an objective perspective on what is actually going on, we’re left with groups of people blindly yelling things at each other in the hopes they won’t regret it later.